Rachel K. Gibson: 2.0 electoral campaigns: how do the new web tools reconfigure local electoral campaigns?

Live notes at the research seminar 2.0 electoral campaigns: how do the new web tools reconfigure local electoral campaigns? by Rachel Gibson. Internet Interdisciplinary Institute, Castelldefels (Barcelona), Spain, May 21th, 2009.

2.0 electoral campaigns: how do the new web tools reconfigure local electoral campaigns?
Rachel K. Gibson

  • What kind of contents? Impact of content on online campaigning and parties (supply-side)
  • Effects on voters attitudes and actual behaviour (demand-side)

Internal side of e-campaigning and factors of web campaign strategy

  • Web strategies: to what extent are parties following an organisational strategy in the use of the web
  • What’s driving this strategy?
  • What effect does web campaigning has? Are old practices being removed and being replaced by web campaigning? How do internal party power hierarchies being affected?
  • Digital divide: organisational resources (the capacity of the party) and individual characteristics (demographics, etc.)
  • Context: level of competition, Internet use in constituency, size of the electorate, professionalisation of legislature, etc.

Some general findings

  • Overall party status identified as most important factor in determining overall presence and quality of sites
  • Overtime this has been questioned, particularly since e-campaigning entered the Web 2.0 era. A participatory Web is a much different framework than setting up just a static website.
  • Suggests (a) that equalisation hypothesis gaining ground over normalisation ideas; (b) that there may be differentiation in use of web tactics
  • If party status (supply side) no longer dominant factor then what explains uptake and usage of technology?

Demand-side explanations of e-campaigns

  • Size of audience: how many Internet users (as a share of the population) and how many of these are visiting the canditates’ or the parties’ websites
  • Mobilisation potential: in general, e-campaigning has been seen to focus on partisans and “preach to converted”, leaving aside “pockets” of potential mobilisation

Organisational implications

  • Obama blended offline and online campaigning: no more “partial” approaches, but holistic crossmedia ones, and integrating old and new techniques
  • Obama’s campaign was based on grassroots and community based, challenging the established power structures and the “war room model”
  • In local campaigns, there’s evidence of an increase of new (online) methods trading-off with face to face traditional methods, and with an increase of the control in local operations

Research questions

  • Is there a difference across parties in the extent to which they adopt 2.0 strategies?
  • Do differences account for demand-side reasons?
  • Is web campaigning supplementing or displacing traditional methods?
  • Is web campaigning decentralizing or concentrating campaigning strategies?

Data from the Australian Candidate Study (ACS) and Australian Election Study (AES), both for 2004.

Australian e-politics timeline

  • 1994 ALP “first” party website.

  • 1996-2001 National parties move online but subnational presence is patchy. Experimental and cautious approach.
  • 2004- expectations heightened for Internet to lay a role
  • 2007 “the next election will be the one (Internet election)” feeling, though the 2007 election already credited for having being really present online and much relying from initiatives on YouTube, MySpace… A novelty in 2007 election was the non-partisan site/initiative GetUp! based on volunteers.

Now: The ALP, pioneer of the Internet, out of government for 11 years. What’s happened online?

  • The general landscape of candidates and parties online has not changed
  • But the ratio of candidates online in major parties has increased, while in minor parties has even decreased
  • Party pages (73% of parties got one) still are the main platforms for online campaigning. Personal sites, e-news and social networking sites follow (circa 40%), and rest of platforms (podcast, videodiary, blog…) have minoritary use.

Factor analysis to identify candidate’s use of web campaining showed three factors: web 2.0, web 1.0 and personal sites. Major parties focus on personal sites, and the Greens have a more 2.0 approach.

Concerning voters, their use of the Internet to get information during elections is steadily increasing. Indeed, mainstream media (radio, TV, newspapers) are losing followers while the Internet is both in absolute and in relative terms gaining weight and is by far the most used means where to get information. But, mainstream news are nevertheless the preferred option when surfing the web for elections information.

Factor analysis to identify voter’s use of the Internet showed twofactors: campaigning sites (parties’ and candidate’s, etc.) and web 2.0 (mainstream news and media websites, youtube, blogs, etc.). Internet usage does not seem to be different according to social background and socioeconomic status, but it is different according to web use: people intensively using/visiting web 2.0 applications/sites are more prone to vote Green or more progressive parties.

Traditional campaigning has been affected by online activities: less doorknocking, direct mailing or telephoning; same mainstream media appearances; less campaign workers. While web campaigning has grown over time: more effort on personal websites, considering Internet as important in the campaign, etc.

Personal website strategies are not trading-off with traditional campaign, but e-mailing is: the more e-mailing, the less traditional campaigning.

Local candidates are becoming more self-sufficient and it somehow seems that some degree of decentralization has been made possible through online campaigning.


  • The web 2.0 is leading to a differentiation among parties in how they engage in e-campaigning.
  • Candidates appear to share a commitment with web 1.0 approaches; minor parties are more likely to go 2.0; major parties favour personalized independent web sites.
  • Greens’ supporters are more likely to be users of the web 2.0; the demand seems to be driving different web strategies.
  • Not a displacement effect between traditional vs. online campaigning; the web enhances traditional techniques
  • e-Campaigning do not reduce the local level actors and increase a centralized national power; if any, just the contraty


Ismael Peña-López: Concerning uptake, usage, etc., is it a matter of party status or budget? The web 2.0 is way cheaper. Could this be the reason for more recent uptake? Gibson: we don’t have data about budgets but it looks like budgets would be a perfectly feasible aspect that could explain some issues. On the other hand, we should be seeing some normalization in this aspect (if the web 2.0 is cheaper, it’s cheaper for everyone), and still some differences between parties exist, and some of them within the web 2.0 arena.

Ramon Ribera: Minor parties don’t get as much coverage in mainstream media as major parties do. This should push them towards a major web 2.0 presence. Gibson: Yes, but we are also seeing that what major parties are doing is bring web 2.0 within their websites (e.g. embedding YouTube videos on their sites), so that these sites become hubs of web 2.0 content, where it is combined. So it might not exactly be a matter of shifting towards a more participatory web or a cheaper one.

Mike Jensen: Are candidates turning a necessity (budget) into a virtue (participation)? Gibson: This is definitely an option. But candidates and parties are also “spending time” that saves little money (and time is money, indeed). So there seems to be evidence that even if it might be true that they’re turning a necessity into a virtue, it is also true that there’s a political will to engage online and go ahead with new (e-)campaigning techniques.

Rosa Borge and Ana Sofía Cardenal: Spanish parties have broadly adopted Web 2.0 tools, being the major parties the ones seemingly the more committed with this approach. Nevertheless, partisans are by far the ones that more intensively use these tools to engage and mobilize.

Ismael Peña-López: in Spain, most parties are using web 2.0 tools, but more than using them they are pestering them, using them for unidirectionally broadcasting same as ever in different ways — this is not the case of partisans and some individual politicians.

Rachel K. Gibson: web 2.0 might find a better ground between elections, to maintain the movement, rather than during campaigns.


If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2009) “Rachel K. Gibson: 2.0 electoral campaigns: how do the new web tools reconfigure local electoral campaigns?” In ICTlogy, #68, May 2009. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
Retrieved month dd, yyyy from https://ictlogy.net/review/?p=2217

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